TV glitches can be a nightmare. In most cases, they’re simply annoying, but sometimes they’re a hypnotizing and surreal works of art.
Some of it is relaxing.
Some is quite disturbing.
Isaac Asimov considered “The Last Question” one of his best science fiction works, and rightfully so. For those who haven’t read it – go on, it takes roughly just 15 minutes. For those who have – it would be great to know your thoughts on it as it touches very complex matters, such as ageing, biomechanics, what is immortality, interstellar travel and many others…
Spoilers below (just highlight the text):
The last question was asked for the first time, half in jest, on May 21, 2061, at a time when humanity first stepped into the light. The question came about as a result of a five dollar bet over highballs, and it happened this way:
Alexander Adell and Bertram Lupov were two of the faithful attendants of Multivac. As well as any human beings could, they knew what lay behind the cold, clicking, flashing face — miles and miles of face — of that giant computer. They had at least a vague notion of the general plan of relays and circuits that had long since grown past the point where any single human could possibly have a firm grasp of the whole.
Multivac was self-adjusting and self-correcting. It had to be, for nothing human could adjust and correct it quickly enough or even adequately enough — so Adell and Lupov attended the monstrous giant only lightly and superficially, yet as well as any men could. They fed it data, adjusted questions to its needs and translated the answers that were issued. Certainly they, and all others like them, were fully entitled to share In the glory that was Multivac’s. Continue reading
Director: Zack Snyder. Screenplay: David S. Goyer, Chris Terrio. Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, Gal Gadot, Jesse Eisenberg. IMDb: 6.6. RT: 27%. My rating: 2.5/4. Budget: $250 mln. Box office: $873 mln. A mystery documentary on how to spend $300 mln and make a dull film.
– We’re criminals, Alfred. We’ve always been criminals. Nothing’s changed.
So… here’s supposed to be a review of “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and I would like to be honest with it – I have little to say this time. This poster expresses my emotions pretty well. Why so serious?!
Sure, this film received fare more hate it deserved, but… it is indeed pretty dull and boring. Not bad – it has a lot of spectacular moments, which is a must with a budget like this. Especially the final battle when Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman fight together against Doomsday.
And the new batsuit? It’s prettu cool! Although I don’t get why Batman needed shining eyes. There’s a lot of awesomeness in this film, which however stops the same moment as… the characters stop fighting and start talking! Hugging, moaming, kissing, put whatever you want here… oh, boy! It is so pretentious. Amy Adams was particularly annoying – nothing in common with her marvellous performance in “Arrival“.
So the overall feeling I had after watching this was “meh”. That’s it. It’s much better than “Suicide Squad” which was just horrible (except for Margot Robbie, of course), but it’s still one big “meh”, especially because Zack Snyder can be a very good and creative director – I really adore “Watchmen“… and “300” was a visual feast, so “BvS” will be more or less enjoyable for anyone who enjoyes Zack Snyder’s films.
I don’t want to start ranting about how awesome were the 90-s blockbusters bla-bla-bla because every decade has its highs and lows and I hate this nostalgia bullshit, but productions like these really make me lose faith in Hollywood, especially taking into consideration how many useless remakes, sequels, reboots and other franchises-wannabe were released in last years. So far “Justice League“, the next installment of the DC Universe, doesn’t seem to be too convincing either.
The cast is theoretically superb (a selection of a dozen best actors Hollywood currently has, even for some secondary roles we have Jeremy Irons or Laurence Fishburne), but it doesn’t help. The characters are not believable and feel 2D. Totally wasted. Batfleck was nice, surely quite a convincing Batman (I still prefer Christian Bale though, as Affleck doesn’t have enough darkness in him for this role and often looks like a plumber billionaire), Jesse Eisenberg was largely criticized for this role (he played Lex Luthor, the main badass) but I thought his idiotic lines brought at least some humour in otherwise boring-to-death dialogues.
And Eisenberg was surely better than Jared Leto’s ridiculous Joker.
So the acting was… fine. Gal Gadot was particularly charming.
The writing was bad and I really felt sorry they had to say those lines. It’s like, you know, watching your favourite actors and really feeling ashamed for what they’re doing… Ever happened to you? As for the rest… The score was good. The visuals were awesome. But it doesn’t save the film. “BvS” can be summarized with one word – overcalculated. It is easy to feel that all the darkness in this movie was calculated and feels artificial, compared to Nolan’s trilogy.
The production wasn’t easy though and the film was in a development hell for years. Nothing really worth your attention here. The film is also a rare Hollywood blockbuster that has a R-rated Director’s Cut so I even included it on my list of all R-rated superhero movies ever released (44 titles!).
The pacing and the editing are messy. Moreover, every 10-15 minutes the music becomes quiet, the camera stops jerking and the characters slow down and start throwing litres of pathos off the screen, talking about justice, love, delusion… Why?! The person responsible for these lines should be fired immediately. If someone removes these parts, it will be an awesome flick.
Yeah, literally cutting every scene when the characters open their mouths and just leaving the action scenes would make it a pretty cool film. Taking into consideration that there is really a lot of cool action, that movie would last at least an hour and a half, precisely enough for a cheesy 80-s action movie! Otherwise I …
Spectacularity: 3/4 (for the action scenes); 1/4 (for everything else)
Pathos level 4/4
Final vote: 2.5/4
…but it is a perfect movie to watch when you’re cooking something, by the way. So each time when the characters start talking, you can take your eyes off the screen and concentrate on what really matters. Now I wonder whether “Justice League” can beat that?
Director: Claire Carré. Starring: Jason Ritter, Iva Gocheva, Greta Fernandez, Tucker Smallwood, Karl Glusman, Roberto Cots. Poland, USA, 2015. IMDb: 5.3. Budget: unknown, but very small. Box office: none (direct-to-video). My rating: 2/4. Research about the human identity through memory loss epidemic in a post-apocalyptic world.
“How can a person who has no memories show up with shaved pits?”
(Bartolomeu from Portugal)
“Toward the end I was hoping to see some kind of point to justify the favorable reviews – instead the movie just ended.”
(J-J N from United States)
“…it was not that generic Hollywood garbage.”
(A1CashFlow from East Coast USA)
In the near future a virus has infected most of the population, causing a dysfunction of the short-term memory and the creation of new memories. That is the whole plot of the movie, which consists of several stories about how people survive in this world. I found “Embers” through various festival nominations (about 30 of them!) and decided to give it a try, despite quiet low Imdb rating. I couldn’t find any info about the budget, but the film raised $23,000 on Kickstarter.
“Embers” is a very minimal movie. Mostly it tries to follow the mood of “Stalker” by Andrei Tarkovsky but with a more romantic flair. The ideas (and there are quiet many of them) are good, but the realization is not perfect. Unfortunately. When something is made of bare bones, every millimeter should be of a perfect beauty. Otherwise… don’t do it that minimal? Tarkovsky was a master of long, haunting scenes with stunning visuals, photography and music, thus, he could create endlessly slow scenes where barely nothing happened. In this debut film by Claire Carré, this kind of maturity is missing.
The reception. The biggest problem of “Embers” is that it is desperately trying to look like an art-house movie or a video installation. It reminds me of people, who do various efforts to look smart/cool/intellectual – you know, meaningful quotes and pauses, unusual look, weird hipster pants, whatever. After few minutes of talking it’s pretty easy to recognize who is trying to imitate something and who is really different. Unfortunately, “Embers” is balancing very unevenly between both types – hence the festival success where all this artsy stuff is highly adored, but low ratings from the public (80% RT / 5.3 IMDb). IndieWire praised it as “the best sci-fi discovery of the year”. Just to remind you for a sec, that in 2015 were released such sci-fi movies as “Ex Machina“, “The Lobster“, “Chappie“, “The Martian“. What are they smoking there?
Maybe these people weren’t informed that “Ex Machina” was released the same year too?
The ideas and the plot. Let’s talk about the ideas. The film consists of several story lines. A guy and a girl, who supposedly are a couple and do not recognize each other every morning as they wake up. The do not remember their names and mostly sleep in abandoned buildings. As the day goes on, they find a way to restore the connection, but the next day the story repeats. Then there is a scientist, living in the forest with his everyday reminders how to heat up the water or start the fire. He is working on the cure to defeat the virus, but he struggles to keep all the things is his mind as they fade out too soon. A young fellow, who has unstoppable rage and violence inside, pouring it on anyone and anything he sees. Finally, a father and his daughter, who managed to hide from the epidemy in the high-tech bunker and are only characters, who escaped from the virus. The daughter struggles with her boredom. Locked inside, she cannot create new memories because every day seems exactly the same to he. We don’t know more than that, the characters shown are pretty blank, just like their memory.
What I liked. The movie uses the memory loss as a metaphor, how people are locked up in a certain circle of behavior. In most circumstances, a person acts only in certain way and cannot see itself from the outside. It’s like for every event a human is programmed for several different reactions, but is it possible to overcome and do something else? This reflection reminds me of brilliant “Ex Machina” by Alex Garland (the conversation about Pollock, remember). Every character in ”Embers” represents a certain commonplace – a romantic couple, a professor, a bully, a bored daughter seeking adventure. Most probably they would follow the same behavioral patterns in a normal world. So what makes them human? Memories? The ability to create new memories?
What I didn’t like. The realization of the movie is far from being perfect. Almost everything was shot with a shaky camera and from a very close distance. This was a little embarrassing (I do not have anything against a shaky camera, but what was the purpose of it here?). The music could be much better and create more atmosphere. The location sets are great (Poland and USA), but the photography seems to be not that careful (again, why so many close-ups? Show us more of the abandoned city with abandoned streets). It’s not visually interesting enough to be a video installation either. All this prevents from enjoying the movie fully and connect with the characters who are pretty blank already. Many scenes could have been cut easily, being repetitive or just dull. So I can understand many negative reviews. The movie for sure is not just for some random moviegoer. But a science fiction and independent cinema fan (like me) may see it differently.
Final vote: 2/4
Worth watching? Maybe. If you want a slow non-Hollywood dystopia. Well, “Embers” is not completely flawed for a first step. I’d definitely have a look at the next movie by Claire Carré though, because this debut feel a little bit incomplete and too artsy. Ironically, just like its characters who are struggling to create new memories, most viewers would do the same after watching “Embers”. The ideas are there and maybe for somebody it’s worth exploring this reflection upon human identity. I’d love to enjoy it more, though.
You can stream or buy “Embers” online here.
Watch also: “Sleep Dealer” is a very curious Mexican dystopia worth checking out. Tarkovsky’s “Stalker” (which I consider one of the best films ever) seems like an obvious recommendation. Debuts as “Moon” by Duncan Jones and “10 Cloverfield Lane” by Dan Trachtenberg are also excellent minimal dystopian thrillers.
“…there is one artist who seems to bring about an almost universal dread in all those who view his work, and that is of course, Francis Bacon. Bacon’s artworks are made up of shrieking figures, ghastly contortions of flayed meat and gristle, they are visceral, oozing and corporeal to the point of revulsion…”
Reblogged from The Surrealist Junkie. Check the full post here – it is very interesting, and as it often happens, his tough life directly influenced his art. Francis Bacon (1909-1992) is absolutely unique in his ability to express a distorted and muted feeling of fear and pain.
Here is the Irish artist himself:
Phaidon did an excellent edition about Francis Bacon.
Director: Matt Osterman. Starring: Brandon Routh, Tom Cavanagh, Caity Lotz, Ben Feldman, Dane Cook. USA, 2015. IMDb: 4.5. Budget: unknown, but very low. Box office: $58. My rating: 0.5/4. Comatose fight of Solaris vs 2001 vs Alien vs Moon.
– What is your current mood?
– Tired… and a little hung over.
– Tired and hung over aren’t moods, I need something like happy, sad, depressed, angry.
(a dialogue between main characters)
“400 Days” is a brilliant showcase of how with very little you can achieve even less. I found it on some faraway dusty sci-fi forums thanks to a viewer who complained about ”10 Cloverfield Lane”, criticizing it as a dull and uninspiring movie with bad acting. Thank you, dear unknown viewer! I must confess I feel like a snob by saying this, but… should a basic cinema education be introduced in secondary education program? At least, as a short course?
Still, I am particularly proud I have seen a movie that grossed $58.00 (fifty eight dollars). Way better than ”Man Down” with Shia LaBeouf that took just £7.00 at UK box office during its premiere, isn’t it? I am also deeply convinced that even worst movies can tell you something new – for example, this year NASA will be actually testing 6 potential cosmonauts for 8 months in closed environment to examine psychological issues. On Hawaii.
400 days is the length of the preparatory mission for a space travel to the Moon. 4 people selected. They will live together in a claustrophobic underground environment, kind of a spaceship simulator, in order to see how psychologically prepared they are for a real mission. As their voluntary imprisonment is reaching the end, something starts to go wrong. It seems that it wasn’t exactly a preparatory mission.
Sounds cheesy? Well, that’s actually the least cheesy part of the film. NASA actually is developing a similar program right now on Hawaii, it’s called HI-SEAS. 6 people, 8 months, Mars-like simulated environment and geology exercises. You can read more here, it’s interesting. Here is a photo of how it actually looks like:
The problem of the movie is not the idea. It’s actually pretty good. The problem, as it often happens with the low budget sci-fi, is the realization. I also have no idea why exactly 400 days are needed, not 399? Doesn’t sound like a cool name for the movie? Pardon my vocal gymnastics, but it may give you a general idea of the internal logic of the film. Or, to be more precise, its absence. What is the characters background? What kind of program is that? Why these 4 people are selected? Why one of them is taken right out of jail? Where comes from the image from the poster? Why the slogan is ”time to kill”? We will never know that.
Oxford Dictionary has a pretty good definition of this movie. “Comatose – of or in a state of deep unconsciousness for a prolonged or indefinite period, especially as a result of severe injury or illness.”
The first 40 minutes are particularly hard to watch, since this is how much the movie actually takes to arrive to the main point (which was already clear to anyone who read the description or saw the trailer). Damn, in Peter Jackson’s ”King-Kong” it took more than one hour to show us the ape… but at least we saw it!
To make it even worse, these 40 minutes are full of broad hints that there is something wrong with the future mission (as if it wasn’t clear already), boring wandering around the ship and weird behavior for no apparent reason when the characters start to go mad (probably because it was written in the script?). The sets look cheap – but still would do fine for some secondary “Outer Limits” episode, if cut by half. “400 Days” feels infinitely long. Like 400 minutes (God bless you, Peter Jackson).
The acting is on the same level as everything else. But it’s not the fault of the actors because we have some good names here. I mean, these people can act. I don’t know what Brandon Routh (Bryan Singer’s “Superman Returns“, Egdar Wright’s “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” which I adore) is doing here. Tom Cavanagh dilutes the ongoing sleepiness with some sinister lines, but that barely saves the movie. And Caity Lotz? She did a brilliant performance in “The Machine“, a cyberpunk movie I just loved.
Oh. Almost forgot.
The characters here have one bad habit. They talk.
I mean, they comment literally everything that is happening around, often several times – like we, viewers, have a 3-year-old-kid brain and are not able to get it. There is a remarkable episode, when the main characters have been hanging around in one place for roughly 2 minutes of the onscreen time and one of them finally says, ”Hey guys, how long we have been wandering around here?”, and his mate replies ”I think an hour or two”. It’s curtains.
The ending could provide some catharsis to all this like it often happens in ending-based movies, but there is virtually no ending. Yes – when the movie ends, you have barely no idea of what actually happened. It’s simply not shown. There are some clues here and there though, so basically here we have same story as with lots of other dull sci-fi like “Primer” or “Uncanny“, when various geeks will watch the movie
over and over 93455 times to solve the puzzle.
Worth watching? I think the Oxford Dictionary has a pretty good definition of this movie. “Comatose – of or in a state of deep unconsciousness for a prolonged or indefinite period, especially as a result of severe injury or illness.” The Oxford Dictionary is right – with a huge choice of great sci-fi of all kind like we have now, there is very little reason to watch ”400 Days”.
But if you don’t take the movie too seriously, it can be plenty of masochist fun to watch too. It will be a tough experience you’ll never forget.
Watch instead: anything else. Perfect “Ex Machina“, ”Moon” & ”10 Cloverfield Lane”, quite good “Exam” & ”Signal”, all of these are valid flicks for some mind-bending thrills, not mentioning old classics like ”Solaris”.
Director: Charlie McDowell. Starring: Mark Duplass, Elisabeth Moss, Ted Danson. USA, 2014. Budget: $100,000. Box office: $513,447. IMDb: 7.1. My rating: 3/4. Witty dissection of a couple relationship wrapped in a sci-fi puzzle.
– Let’s say you buy a gorilla.
– Excuse me?
– Let’s say you buy a gorilla, Ethan.
– You can’t buy a gorilla.
– I know that, it was for the story. But fine, let’s say
you buy an aardvark, okay?
(conversation between main characters)
What I especially liked about ”The One I Love” is that it’s a smart and small movie that is not trying to be pretentious and artsy – of those kind that are slow and hard to watch, burdened with their artistry and attempt to say something deep (like beautiful but soulles “High-Rise“). While somebody could criticize it for not digging as profoundly as it could, I’d rather say that it intelligently leaves you enough space to analyze it by yourself. From one hand, it’s still some kind of a
weird story dark romantic comedy about a couple in crisis. But it’s also a psychological minimal science fiction with witty plot and unusual approach. And as you start to understand what is actually happening in the movie, it can get pretty creepy. In short, ”The One I Love” is a micro-budget ($100,000) film about a couple in crisis with lingering and memorable aftertaste. Last but not least, it’s a puzzle.
If you have seen an indie with Mark Duplass (“Cyrus“, “Safety Not Guaranteed“), a one man orchestra, then you’d probably know at least vaguely what to expect from “The One I Love“. Intimate atmosphere, unorthodox script and dialogues, warm human touch imbue almost all of his works. In case you are not familiar with his works, this movie could be a good reason to do it. It’s also was a curious case when the critics were asked not mention the plot of the movie since it’s pretty difficult to write about it without spoiling anything. Before the release, it had two kinds of a test screening – where the audience knew the main idea of the plot and where it didn’t (the second screening did much better).
“The One I Love” is pretty minimal, basically, it’s a theater with two actors – Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss (“Mad Men“, “High-Rise“). Almost everything is happening in one location. But thanks to an original idea with some very good acting the film keeps you glued to the screen. It’s also a debut movie by Charlie McDowell, the son of legendary Malcolm McDowell (“A Clockwork Orange“). It seems Mark Duplass has really a distinctive flair for revealing talent in young directors. He was contacted by McDowell who wanted to make something ”relationship-oriented” and during three weeks they with Justin Lader build up a very detailed 50 page script, where everything was described with smallest details – everything except for the dialogues, that were improvised by Moss and Duplass right during the filming to make the story more alive and real. 9 weeks later the movie done. Pretty quick even for such a small movie.
But small doesn’t mean that it offers little, right? You could draw some parallels between ”The One I Love” and brilliant ”Coherence” (a must-see!). Some other wonderful movies like ”Closer” and ”Sliding Doors” also come to my mind. But while the ”Coherence” was more about our choices and character formation in general, ”The One I Love” is rather a dissection of a couple relationship using science fiction to approach the question from an unexpected angle. It is an intimate story about something very private though still an experience almost all of us had. So I would rather rather leave you to analyze the movie by yourself. For those who are already in a relationship – go on and watch it together, it may be pretty thought-provoking for a good discussion.
What I liked less. Still, a movie deserves some criticism as well. While Duplass’ passion for micro-budget-oriented movies is indeed adorable – he even said that it’s actually easier to make money with a movie that has a budget of $500,000 rather than $5,000,000, I wish the film showed us the story from a bigger view. I suppose it’s not only a budget question though, but more of time and organizational matters since the movie was made barely in 3 months. At times I felt like the movie is a little bit too tight in its minimal setting for what it wants to explore.
The recepton. It’s always a pleasure to note that such small independent movies can gain good recognition – 80% on Rotten Tomatoes, 7.1 with 27k IMDb votes and a Saturn Award nomination as Best Independent Film.
Worth watching? ”The One I Love” is a curious dissection of a couple relationship. If you love sci-fi puzzle and Charlie Kaufman-like movies, definitely check it out. It leaves enough space for psychological depth, while remaining a pretty quick-paced and at times creepy puzzle. The plot is sturdy and witty. So yes – instead of an endless array of various kind of romantic comedies whatever, watch ”The One I Love”. I don’t like this cliched definition, but it’s a thought-provoking movie indeed. While not perfect and probably a little bit too minimal (I still prefer ”Coherence”, which I consider a low-budget cinema masterpiece, but it was also heavier and darker), ”The One I Love” is an interesting, refreshing and original psychologic puzzle about all of us.
Final vote: 3/4
P. S. Read here Q&A with the Duplass brothers.
Directors: Marteinn Thorsson, Jeff Renfroe. Starring: Jeremy Sisto, Deborah Unger, Udo Kier, Lance Henriksen, Bruce Payne. 2004, Iceland, USA, Romania. Budget: $1.7 mln. Box office: unknown. IMDb: 6.2. My rating: 3.5/4. Surreal cyberpunk.
– I’m full of bugs. I’m full of mistakes.
(one of the movie’s main characters)
– You ever have that feeling where you’re not sure if you’re awake or still dreaming?
– All the time. It’s called mescaline.
(a dialogue from “The Matrix”)
“Is atmospheric but in a way that made me nervous, I wanted to tear the seat and theater apart.”
(p_imdb-238-926380 from Germany)
Has it ever happened to you to spend days while you are trying to get a certain information or a document? The office rats send you from one office to another (“Sure, ask my colleague from room 867 on the 16th floor“), you spend hours on the phone, then from one building to the opposite side of town (“Yes, we are open on Tuesday from 16.00 till 18.00 and on Thursday from 10.00 till 12.00“), and days pass and you feel being sucked in some insane surreal bureaucratic vortex. I experienced it more than once and – while I hope it didn’t happen do you – I bet you went through this too.
Now imagine of experiencing this kind of feeling in your own apartment, located in a somewhat post-Victorian post-communist gloomy house full of surveillance cameras, weird dark holes and obscure personalities. Every day you receive a nicely packaged box which is perfectly empty. Every day. You spy your neighbours, install the surveillance, but… the packages keep appearing. And THE MILK. You are just obsessed with milk now. “Nature Fresh” brand milk. Continue reading
Here is my Top 10 Soviet sci-fi movies with a dozen of modern trailers I made specially for it while studying some video editing.
Beautiful new ambient, shoegaze, dreampop, synthpop and techno soundtracks included.
A cerebral timeless masterpiece by Andrei Tarkovsky, probably the most renowned and influential Soviet/Russian director. Loosely based on a story by important Soviet science fiction writers Strugatsky brothers (and seen by many as a prophecy for several upcoming catastrophes including Chernobyl), “Stalker” could be interpreted as a philosophical tale about destiny and choices. But there’s much more that that. It’s simply one of the most important cinema achievements ever, let alone science fiction. The story follows three men as they penetrate deeper into into a mysterious area called “The Zone”, each of them for a different purpose. A thinking sci-fi geek’s must-see. This movie is like a Universe, there are always new layers to discover. Read more here and here.
Music by Bowery Electric.
Theatre of the absurd, a mysterious tragicomedy, a dark metaphor. The late 80-s, without doubt, were the most prolific period for the underground culture in Soviet Union, especially rock music but also cinema. ”City Zero” is the finest dark offspring of that epoch. The film is normally classified as sci-fi/mystery – but if you analyze every single scene separately, there’s nothing completely impossible. It’s the sum of all parts that is greater than the whole… The famous headcake scene actually happened once in Russia. But looking at the whole story makes you feel like slowly drowning in the swamp… It’s kind of ”Donnie Darko” goes on ”Mulholland Drive” in ”The Twilight Zone” atmosphere. My full review here. Watch online here.
Music by Auktyon (Аукцыон).
Directed by K. Lopushansky, surely the most faithful of all Tarkovsky’s followers (he worked as assistant on ”Stalker” set), this film is a heavy and realistic portrayal of the end of the world. Endless piles of rusty metal, interminable yellow twilight, dirty radioactive puddles of mixed water and blood. And dead bodies. Dead bodies everywhere. Men, children, women. Everywhere. There is no hope here. It’s finished. There is no ”if”. The doomsday clock has moved. We are just witnessing the final decay of small group of survivors that will last several months, probably. There is not even a single hint about their survival. It’s a death rattle. Just a matter of time. My full review here. Watch online here.
Music by Ital Tek.
1979, USSR (Estonia).